April 24, 2015

her first haircut...

her first haircut | yourwishcake.com
This week, I finally cut Eisley's hair for the first time. I've trimmed her bangs for ages now (with mixed results, for sure…oh, the motherhood learning curve!) but after she recently decided to snip off a few random chunks of hair herself (it was A DAY, for sure) I figured maybe it was time I took her in to get her hair evened out. But then I realized that there had to be a way I could do this myself and avoid the hassle (and price) of going somewhere to have someone else do a relatively simple trim.

Thank goodness for Google! I came across a few websites that recommended sectioning the hair up in 3+ sections and then just trimming them one-by-one. Easy peasy, right? For once, it actually was. Hallelujah! It's nice because at this age—and due to the fact that she doesn't have that much hair—I didn't have to worry about cutting it completely straight. And there's something strangely satisfying about cutting someone else's hair. (Is it just me?) The hardest part was getting her to sit still for the entire five minutes it took me to complete the process.

Eisley, sit still, please. We're almost done. Look straight ahead. No, not down…straight ahead. Can you stop wiggling? Okay, we're almost done. Be still like a statue! Be still! Just a few more snips! LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD! WE'RE ALMOST DONE!

God bless anyone who does children's hair for a living. Or is a child photographer, because apparently it takes everything under the sun for Eisley to give me a genuine smile these days. (I'm almost to the point of bribing her with leftover Peeps. And maybe a pony.)

Here's the before and after:
her first haircut | yourwishcake.com
I'm actually glad I went ahead and did the cut myself. That first layer felt like I was taking off a lot of length, but all I really ended up doing was taking her hair up to the first natural layer. To be completely honest, I love the "before" more, because her hair is all flowy and natural and makes me all happy and emotional. But now her hair is (relatively) even and looks much thicker. Having it one length makes her seem so grown up!

And now it's at least a bit closer to the chunks she cut on her own earlier this month. (Remind me to keep her training scissors out of reach. Like, in Canada.)

She keeps telling random strangers that she got a haircut when we're out and about, which makes me smile. Then she'll lean over to me and ask, all concerned, "My hair is going to grow back…right?"

her first haircut | yourwishcake.com
I'm also the parent who has my child hold a ball of her own hair and pose for a photo. Completely normal, I assure you.

Further reading: Conversations with Eisley

April 23, 2015

lazy lady menu planning (and 8 of my favorite simple dinners)...

lazy-lady menu planning (and 8 of my go-to easy meals) | yourwishcake.com
If there's one thing I've learned when it comes to saving money on groceries, it's that couponing is actually not as scary or difficult as I thought it was going to be. And if there's another thing I've learned, it would be the value of jotting down a menu plan every week—whether you want to be detailed or more carefree, it doesn't matter. The benefit comes from simply having that weekly outline to guide your daily dinner-making.

I've only been actively meal planning since early this year, and I really had no idea how much of my sanity it would save. I now try to jot down at least 2 weeks worth of dinners in advance (being intentional about "shopping" our fridge, freezer and cabinets so I make use of items I already have on hand!) and then each week I know what to add to my grocery and Costco shopping lists. I've cut down on what I spend each week significantly because of this. There have been weeks here and there when literally the only things I needed to buy were produce, dairy and a couple other pantry items that were very, very much on sale.

There's something about spending less than $30 on groceries in one week that makes one sold on the idea of meal planning. Can I get an amen?

In order to make this work for us, the thing I've had to cut back on is trying new recipes. I found that when I was searching for more unique, random recipes just to throw something exciting into the mix, I ended up with leftover ingredients that I had to find use for (and, consequently, more new recipes I'd never tried). During this season of life, I'm actually pretty happy sticking to about a dozen things I know how to make well, are easily modified to be a little different here and there, and that I know my family likes to eat. I'm sure there will be time down the road when I can be fancy-pants with the weekly menu, but for now? I mostly stick to what I know.

Enter: lazy-lady menu planning! Every weekend I jot down the next week (or, if I'm ambitious, two weeks) of meals and go from there. I rarely stick to the actual day that I write the mail down for, but at least I know I have one of 7 options to choose from every week. It's worked out rather nicely.

I thought I'd share a list of the recipes that show up most often on our weekly rotation of meals!

Keep in mind that the list is specific to my own family's shopping habits, food preferences and my personal level of culinary skill (which is not at the Iron Chef and/or food blogger level, let's just say that). Although we do eat fish (and are social carnivores), we stay almost completely meat-free here at home—both for budget and health reasons. However, all of these recipes are easily modified to include some sort of meat, if that's your preference.

For the record, these "go-to, easy dinners" have the following qualifications:
  1. Relatively low cost
  2. Most ingredients are items I typically have on hand or buy often
  3. Quick-ish prep (even though some require veggie chopping, which I personally enjoy)
  4. Fool proof (meaning it's simple to prepare—probably with a 3 year old constantly underfoot!)

8 Favorite Go-To Easy Dinners

Taco Soup (from this book; recipe found online here)
This one is so easy, it's a little ridiculous. We use Morningstar veggie crumbles instead of ground beef or chicken, and it's just as tasty. The leftovers are divine, and this soup also freezes well!

Black Bean and Avocado Enchiladas (via Budget Bytes)
Everyone I've recommended this recipe to has loved it, and I'm sure they also felt impressed with themselves when they made enchilada sauce completely from scratch! (Never mind how simple it actually is. That's our little secret.) I could eat this every week and never tire of it. I've also started freezing a portion of this recipe whenever I make it (since this is one Eisley won't touch and Jay and I are the only ones eating it) so I have another dinner ready to go down the road.

Tofu and Veggie Curry with Rice
This is one of those throw-whatever-the-heck-you-want-in-the-pot sort of recipes. We use this curry mix (someday we'll learn to make it from scratch!) along with tofu, onions, potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, celery, and any other veggies that tickle our fancy. It's a very inexpensive, simple meal that both Jay and I love (this is another one Eisley says is "too spicy") and we always look forward to the leftovers.

Ravioli Lasagna (via Taste of Home)
This is one my mom used to make when I was growing up and I still love it. We buy spinach and cheese ravioli for cheap at Costco, and the only other two required ingredients are mozzarella cheese and one jar of pasta sauce. We forgo the meat and usually pack the middle layer with some extra veggies (spinach and mushrooms). This is one Eisley loves to help me to prepare, which is an added bonus!

Tofu Stirfry
This is another favorite, inexpensive meal that we usually have once every week! We buy a huge bag of stirfry veggies from Costco which seems to last forever, and sauté the pressed tofu in this sauce (we purchase it from Costco). We usually serve the veggies and tofu with noodles or rice. PS: Eisley actually loves tofu (she even begs to eat it raw, which blows my mind).

Bertolli Frozen Meals
I love having a few of these tucked in the freezer for those days when I go to make dinner and am all, "Yeeeeeeah…no." These are the best tasting skillet meals I've had, and their seafood options are great. To make myself feel better, I usually throw extra veggies (fresh, canned or frozen) into each meal, depending on what it is. (I also love that I can sometimes get these for less than $5 each when there is a good sale.)

Fish "Burgers" or Tacos
I never thought I'd be an adult fan of fish sticks, but these from Costco are so good. I rarely serve them plain, but like to put them on a bun for fish "burgers" or with sautéed veggies, avocado and other taco toppings inside flour tortillas. Cheap, inexpensive and delish!

Almost-From-Scratch Pizza
I call this almost from scratch because although I don't make the dough, it's still a bit more effort than buying frozen cheese pizzas from Costco and topping them with a bunch of veggies (which we've done a lot in the past, and still fully endorse). Trader Joe's has pizza dough for ridiculously cheap (just over a dollar—our favorite is the garlic and herb!) and when I can get mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce for a good price form the grocery store, it makes this an inexpensive and delicious dinner. We top our pizza with a bunch of veggies and a sprinkling of dried basil, and recommend using a pizza stone like this one that we have.

Now it's time for you to give me some ideas to add into the mix. What are your favorite easy dinners? Anything I have to try? I'd love to add in some new recipes here and there.

Also! A portion of the awesome resources within this Ultimate Homemaking Bundle are geared toward cooking and meal planning: 8 eCookbooks, 12 eBooks on meal planning and other foodie goodness, 2 complete eCourses on grocery shopping and meal planning (I'm loving the Grocery University eCourse!), and a free 90-day membership to a meal planning website. Take a peek at everything you get for less than $30—and let me know if you have any questions!

Affiliate links included in this post; view my disclosure policy here.

April 22, 2015

Citrus Lane: a peek inside my April box...

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Last week, our most recent Citrus Lane box arrived, and I managed to sneak it away to snap some photos before Eisley saw what I was doing. (I have a few talents as a parent, and sneakiness is one of them.) See below for a peek at the items we received this month!

Citrus Lane box review, April 2015! | yourwishcake.com
At first glance, I was pretty happy with the contents of this box (which is for a 3 year old girl). There are certain brands that show up in these boxes pretty consistently, and Barefoot Books is one of my absolute favorites, along with Green Toys! Seeing these two items had me quite the happy camper. Still, to be honest, I like to view these boxes through the eyes of someone who paid $29 for the month-to-month subscription—and for anyone who paid that price, I feel this may be the first box ever (and we've received many) that wasn't worth the month-to-month price.

I like to calculate the average retail price of the items within each box, so I can have a good idea of whether or not I feel it's worth what an average customer would pay full-price, without any codes or credits used. This month, it was a little tricky, because both the book and dish set were created specifically for Citrus Lane, so I could only guess on what they would cost if sold individually. (For instance, the regular Dish Set has 24 items instead of 12, and costs $24.99, and this specific book isn't available in paperback.) My best guess is that the value of all the items comes to just shy of $29, which is a bit of a bummer. There was also a coupon for a discounted membership to a yoga website, but when I have to pay money out of pocket for something in order to get the savings, I don't include that in the worth of the box.

Here's a closer look at the items inside:

Citrus Lane box review, April 2015! | yourwishcake.com
Dish Set from Green Toys (average retail price, based on larger set: $12.50) — Green Toys is such an awesome company and I'm always thrilled when this brand is included in these boxes! Over the years, we've received a variety of toys and tableware and have loved them all. The quality is fantastic, and I love that everything they make is made from 100% recycled plastic. I was going to save this for Christmas, but realized that almost daily Eisley asks for dishes and tableware to use to play restaurant. Plastic > glass. Perfect timing!

Citrus Lane box review, April 2015! | yourwishcake.com
Junior Bangle from Chewbeads (average price: $6.00) — This is the one item in the box that I found a little boring. It's cute enough, but I think it would have been more fun to receive a necklace or something a bit less basic than the bangle. I'm sure Eisley will love it, as she does with any sort of jewelry these days, but nothing about this product really stood out to me, personally!

Citrus Lane box review, April 2015! | yourwishcake.com
Whole Grain Cookies from My Super Cookies (average retail price: around $1): I always love the random snacks they throw into these boxes. It's fun for Eisley to try something she's never had, and it's nice that they always end up being something deceptively healthy and organic.

Citrus Lane box review, April 2015! | yourwishcake.comCitrus Lane box review, April 2015! | yourwishcake.com
My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words (average price of similar paperbacks: $7.99) — Out of everything we received, I'm most excited about this book. It's perfect for Eisley! As she works on her pre-reading and vocabulary skills, this one will be very much enjoyed. As with all Barefoot Books we've received through Citrus Lane, the illustrations are colorful and beautifully done (which is always a selling point for me!). To be honest, I've been so smitten with everything I've seen from Barefoot Books that I've toyed with the idea of becoming an ambassador through their website—because, although I'm not a direct-sales sort of a gal, books are something I've always been passionate about, and this brand has so many wonderful offerings.

Because we've received so many of these boxes throughout the past few years (and have always loved the products inside—many of which we continue to use years later) I like to think that this month's low value for the price is just a fluke. Since I began calculating the average retail price of the items inside the boxes I received, the value has been worth around $35+ for each box, so if you're looking to stock up on toys, books and other unique gifts for your child (or any other kiddos in your life!) I think these boxes are a pretty good deal!I still recommend this subscription box to anyone with a kiddo preschool-age or younger, because of my past experiences and all the awesome items we have received.

I'm grateful to have enough referral credits to snag one more box before I decide whether or not to continue our own subscription. I'll be sure to let you know my final verdict!

Coupon codes, ahoy!
  • If you're interested in signing up for a 3 or 6 month subscription, use the code CITRUS20 to receive a $20 discount.
  • If you'd prefer to just try one box, you can use the code TAKE10 during checkout to receive $10 off your first box bringing the price down to $19, including shipping.
  • Both of these codes are good through 4/30!

Did you receive a box this month? What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear any feedback you have!

Affiliate links included in this post. If you purchase a Citrus Lane subscription through my referral links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support! View my disclosure policy here.